Liam Neeson is on a run of films that’s been fairly unprecedented ever since Taken. It’s very rare in the modern era of film-making for someone over 50 to be able to still headline pulpy, genre action films outside of established actors (Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, et al) or one off films featuring aging leading men trying to do something new (ala Sean Penn in next weekend’s The Gunman. Action films have been the province of the young for some time and Neeson’s ascent to king of the action movie mountain, current holder of the action movie championship belt, has been so fascinating to watch. If you’d have said that 10 years ago that the star of Kinsey would wind up going from prestige film headliner to summer blockbuster leading man it’d have been quite a stretch; actors don’t tend to go from being prestige level actors (and mentor style character actors in blockbuster franchises) to headlining action films regularly. And yet Neeson has been able to transition into a resume backloaded with action films, crazy as it seems, and he once again delivers a solid and compelling (but not overly brilliant) pulp genre film with Run All Night.
Simple premise. Neeson is Jimmy, a former mob hitman living on hard times. He pushed his family away for many years, not wanting them to be influenced by the moral rot of being a mob hitter that surrounded his career as ‘Jimmy the Grave Digger’ Conlan. When his son (Joel Kinnamon) watches a childhood friend (Boyd Holbrook) murder some gangsters, Jimmy winds up killing him to save his son. The problem is that the murder victim is also the son of the mob boss (Ed Harris) for whom Jimmy served many years. This doesn’t bode well and now father & son are on the run all night, with revenge against Jimmy’s entire family promised in retribution. Dirty cops, mobsters and a pro hitter (Common) are all on the duo’s trail.
It’s pure genre material, of course, but the interesting thing is that the film doesn’t try to soften things up for the sake of its leading man. Jimmy is a violent killer who only is now able to deal with what he’s done; he’s unable to sleep at night because the images of the dozens of people in his mind pop up when he closes his eyes. There’s no softening of Jimmy because we want him to be likeable, or because he’s played by a likeable actor. He’s a vile, bad human being who made sure to keep his son out of his business. The film pulls no punches on the sort of man Jimmy is. He isn’t the killer with a heart of gold; he was someone who killed for a living and had no qualms with it. Jimmy just knew enough that he didn’t want the stench on his soul to also be on that of his family.
It helps to make the film work on a better level than merely it functioning as a star vehicle for Neeson. This is the tale of a bad man who did bad things for the sum of this life, fracturing his relationship with his son in the process, trying to keep the one good thing he did in the world alive by any means necessary. It’s not a redemptive tale … but it’s one about a father and his son with a bad relationship trying to stay alive until they can turn things in their direction. It’s not about finding a common ground or forgiveness; it’s about survival.
Other than that, though, this is purely a genre film. It doesn’t aim for anything more than being a white knuckle, violent thriller and hits it just well enough to be worth the price of admission.
Director: Jaume Collet-Serra Writer: Brad Ingelsby Notable Cast: Liam Neeson, Ed Harris, Joel Kinnaman, Common, Bruce McGill, Vincent D’Onofrio, Boyd Holbrook, Genesis Rodriguez